Whenever there is violence involving someone with an apparent mental illness, there is a stepped-up demand for forced treatment of those, such as myself, who have a psychiatric diagnosis. However, leaving aside the violation of people’s rights, I can tell you from my personal experience with both forced and voluntary treatment that coercive “treatment” doesn’t work. Force only drives people away from treatment.[i]
Legislation mandating force is based on the false premise that people don’t want help. Instead, people often cannot secure services despite repeated attempts because our mental health system is “in shambles,” according to the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.[ii]
Studies have shown that what works is not force but access to effective services.[iii] We don’t need to change the laws to make it easier to lock people up; existing laws provide for that when warranted. Instead, we need to create and fund effective community-based mental health services and supports that would make it attractive for people to come in and receive care, and that would support them in their recovery. We also must end the discrimination that discourages people from seeking help. “Discrimination has no place in our society.” So said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who in 2008 praised the passage of the parity legislation designed to end insurance discrimination against persons seeking mental health treatment.[iv]
Anyway, we can’t predict the exceedingly rare violent acts by individuals with psychiatric conditions.[v] In fact, studies show that we are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.[vi]
We do need stronger gun control laws. It’s significant that, in one year, guns killed 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the U.S.[vii]
And we should support the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which does groundbreaking work to improve mental health services and to promote hope and recovery for individuals with even the most severe mental health conditions.
Joseph A. Rogers is executive director of the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse, a national technical assistance center funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.